By Dawn Krebs
ST. LUCIE COUNTY - For the last 50 years, she has been a devoted wife. For the last nine years, she has also been a devoted caregiver.
But now a St. Lucie County woman, who spends her days taking care of her husband, has a few days to take care of herself.
Mary Lamalie, a retired teacher, was named the national winner of a contest for caregivers. She was awarded a six-day, five-night cruise.
Her story was chosen from more than 1,000 entries. She was nominated for the award by Dana Forman, a nurse at Alzheimer's Community Care, a day-care facility her husband attends. "Even when she attends the support group and it's her turn to speak, she doesn't discuss her own situation," said Ms. Foreman. "Instead, she offers suggestions to help other family caregivers."
Mrs. Lamalie's husband, Ken, is also a former teacher. He suffered the first of many strokes in 2002, and has been afflicted with advanced dementia.
But she still cares for him every day, and only leaves his side when he attends the day-care facility and when she attends caregiver support groups.
"He mostly sleeps and watches television," Ms. Lamalie said. "In the morning, I shower and dress him, and situate him in the wheelchair for the day. His right side is useless, so when I make him breakfast, I have to cut up the food into small pieces. He is able to eat on his own, it just takes him a long time."
Ms. Lamalie will also receive 40 hours of free respite care for her husband from the Home Instead Senior Care office while she is on the cruise.
"Mary's story illustrates the sacrifices so many families make each day caring for loved ones," said Jeff Huber, president of Home Instead.
"Family caregivers seldom have the opportunity to get away because they are devoted daily to those who depend on them. We're happy to provide her a much-needed break."
"I haven't had a vacation for so long," Ms. Lamalie said, "years, really."
But she added that all the support has helped her.
"It's so nice to have someone to talk with so I'm not sitting on my porch crying at night," she said.
"It's a long journey and it's hard, but there's lots of support out there when you search things out."